Manfred Elfstrom, a PhD student at Cornell University in the United States, has produced an extraordinary resource for the trade union movement.
It’s a website called China Strikes and is essentially a map of China with red dots representing strikes.
Elfstrom is taking this quite seriously and is producing some interesting results. For example, he’s categorised the strikes not only by region, but also by sector.
Some of this will not be surprising — for example, he finds 15 strikes at electronics factories, such as the infamous Foxconn.
There are another dozen strikes reported in auto factories.
But click on “sex workers” and you’ll read about a surprising protest by prostitutes in Wuhan in August 2010.
“Only actions by workers over workplace issues are included,” writes Elfstrom. “Thus, land disputes or environmental protest, for example, are excluded.”
Accuracy is, of course, essential if the site is to be useful to anyone.
Elfstrom writes that “Reports are ‘verified’ when they a) come from a reliable source, such as an NGO that has produced many accurate reports or a major Chinese or foreign news outlet or b) when I can find more than one report of an incident.”
The site is much more than just a static map to look at.
It includes, for example, a sophisticated system of email alerts.
If you’re a trade union activist in, say, the food sector, you tell it to email you when a strike breaks out in that sector anywhere in China.
You can do the same by region, by clicking on the map. You’ll get an email alert any time a strike happens within 20 kilometres of where you clicked.
Elfstrom encourages readers to submit strike news and has an online form to do so — which once again involves clicking on a map to show where the strike is taking place.
Readers can submit photos and detailed descriptions of strikes as well.
Though the site is largely in English, there’s a page in Chinese that invites workers to submit their strike reports directly.
Some of the reports are in Chinese only.
So far, the site lists 69 strike reports, three of them from March of this year. The most recent one describes a kindergarten teachers’ strike in Shenzhen.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more strikes taking place in China.
Nevertheless, it’s an extraordinary use of cutting-edge technology by an individual which could prove very useful for trade unionists who are interested in China — as we all should be.